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Program Design, Development, and Quality

The Common Core and What Children Need

Common Core

I was recently introduced to this quote from Robert Halpern of the Erikson Institute:

“… children need times and places in their lives where the adult agenda is modest, if not held at bay; where the emotional temperature is low, and acceptance is generous; where learning is self-directed, experiential, and structured to be enjoyable; where talents can be identified; and where possible identities can be explored without risk of failure or ridicule” (Halpern, 2000, p. 186).

It so powerfully states the unique role that out-of-school time can play in a child’s life, and what many of us have been working to build and strengthen. This quote quickly led me to the Learning in Afterschool and Summer principles that Sam Piha of Temescal Associates developed and is promoting to help all of us define what after school and summer programs contribute to children’s learning. These principles focus on the things that high-quality after school and summer programs do so well – making sure that learning is active, collaborative, meaningful, supports mastery and expands horizons.

Guided by these principles, I’ve recently been pushed further into new thinking about the role of after school and summer programs because of the Common Core State Standards and what they could mean for teaching in the school day as well as the out-of-school time. Common Core is gradually being adopted in districts across California and there is an overwhelming work to be done to get teachers and schools up to speed by the 2014-15 when they are set to be assessed on these new standards.

On that note, there’s also a lot for after school and summer providers to be excited about.

Specifically, the opportunity to use these standards to be proactive about what after school and summer programs and staff are really doing for kids and how they are doing it. Take, for example, the English Language Arts standards around “Speaking and Listening” which place an emphasis on discussions in “one-on-one, small-group, and whole-class settings. Formal presentations are one important way such talk occurs, but so is the more informal discussion that takes place as students collaborate to answer questions, build understanding, and solve problems.”

The school day will be hard-pressed to meet standards like this in isolation with its limited space and time and multiple requirements.

An after school partner, however, often has more space, time and flexibility. In fact, as you’re reading this, you can probably list off about 10 activities that after school programs regularly do that give children practice “speaking and listening” in both formal and informal ways and in multiple groupings. Kids in after school are, for example, routinely reading, writing and performing plays; sharing their ideas through spoken word, stories, and songs; working in teams to garden, cook, experiment, and play; and formally presenting their learning in celebrations and performances. All of these activities and examples like it can be supportive and reinforce the Common Core Standards.

Also within the Common Core, there are the “habits of mind” which define the kinds of skills that schools need to foster in children in order for them to successfully master content.

These habits of mind for English Language Arts, for example, define the “literate individual” as someone who:

  • Demonstrates independence
  • Builds strong content knowledge
  • Responds to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline
  • Comprehends as well as critiques
  • Values evidence
  • Uses technology and digital media strategically and capably
  • Understands other perspectives and cultures

As I go down this list, I am reminded of the many obvious and exciting connections to after school and summer programmatic strengths.

These qualities are embedded in the attributes we have been defining and re-defining in the Learning in Afterschool and Summer principles, youth development theory, 41 Developmental Assets, social/emotional learning, etc. We have a very real opportunity, now, to translate and communicate how our work complements and supports the areas of the Common Core some of which may be the most challenging for school-day teachers and administrators. This is something concrete to partner around, and something concrete that after school does with pride and skill.

So, from my view, there’s a lot of opportunity in this Common Core movement – for after school and summer programs, for the school day and most importantly for kids. But, we will have to be proactive and strategic to make sure we – the out-of-school time field – are defining our role and contributions, so that they are authentic and meaningful. The “times and places” that Halpern describes are incredibly important, and we have a unique opportunity in the Common Core to mobilize out-of-school time’s assets and resources in partnership with the school day to more fully support young people’s learning, growth and success.

For breakfast, I always have a LARGE cup of coffee, cereal, and a banana!

Author Profile: @katiebrackenridge

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